Colorado’s 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown took more than 6½ weeks off work in 2015, an amount far greater than that taken by his senior attorneys and some of his peers.
Brown, elected in 2013 and seeking re-election this year, said the rules spelled out in the district’s time-off policy don’t apply to him because he’s an elected official. He also said he isn’t required to keep track of how many vacation days he takes.
“I don’t answer to anybody within the office,” he said. “The reason why I take time off is because I’m a public servant, and I’m not a public slave.”
While there’s no official record of how much time off Brown has taken over the past three years, a Denver Post review of e-mail newsletters that outline the DA’s weekly schedule indicates he took 33 days off in 2015. During that year, Brown took two full weeks off in June and took another day at the end of the month.
They also show that Brown took 28 days off in 2014.
“I think most Coloradans would consider themselves very lucky to get that much vacation,” said Luis Toro, director of watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch. “It shows that there is no oversight of district attorneys and elected officials.”
Said Jon Caldara, president of Denver’s libertarian-leaning Independence Institute: “If I were a taxpayer in Eagle County, I would want more information. … I would think that a DA’s job is awfully demanding, and having him there to steer the ship is important.”
“Not an employee”
Employees in Brown’s district can accrue up to 22 vacation days each year if they’ve been on the job at least 10 years. But Brown said the taxpayers didn’t elect him to be present. They elected him, he said, to oversee an efficient and responsive office, which includes monitoring and mentoring 13 deputy district attorneys.
The elected DA is typically responsible for managing the office, prosecuting cases and working with law enforcement to investigate crimes.
“I’m not an employee,” he said. “I’m the elected district attorney. My responsibility is to make sure the cases are well-prosecuted.”
The only year Brown stuck to his office’s policy was in 2013, when the e-mails show he took 19 days off. But those records also point to two additional weeks — one in June and one in July — when he was out of the office but available via phone or e-mail.
Each of Colorado’s 22 judicial districts handles time off differently for elected officials.
While some district attorneys, including Denver’s Mitch Morrissey, adhere to a set policy regarding time off, many are on their own to determine how much time is too much.
Dan Rubinstein, the 21st Judicial District attorney, said his office doesn’t monitor the number of days off he takes, but he wrote in an e-mail that he’s too busy to spend a substantial amount of time away from work.
“It is best for office morale for the people in the office to think that the boss is one of the hardest-working, lead-by-example kind of people,” he said.
George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District has taken 27 days off since he took office in 2013, according to his office’s records. The most days he took off in one year was 12 in 2014.
In 2015, when he prosecuted the James Holmes theater-massacre trial, Brauchler took five days off work. So far this year, he has taken five days off.
Brauchler, whose district includes Elbert, Arapahoe, Douglas and Lincoln counties, said DAs of larger offices often have more resources at their disposal.
“But I also think the demands can be bigger,” he said. “I think, depending on the office, people are either capable or incapable of running the office based on what they’ve set up.”
A lack of time-off policies for elected officials is common. Sheriffs and other county-level officials, for example, often don’t have them, said Brian Namey, director of public affairs for the National Association of Counties.
“Those are local decisions,” he said. “It would vary from county to county.”
“I get a break”
The 5th Judicial District, which includes Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties, is one of 17 districts that span multiple counties. Brown splits his time between the four counties, sometimes commuting more than 100 miles to work from his home in Clear Creek, he said. In an average week, he said, it’s not uncommon for him to drive 600 miles.
Brown also noted that his job requires him to work outside the constraints of a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, which isn’t reflected in the e-mailed office newsletters that The Post reviewed.
And when the newsletters indicate he took time off, Brown said, he was available to answer work-related phone calls and e-mails. He said he responds to calls from law enforcement around the clock.
“No one would want to do this job if they were required to do it without having the ability to take breaks,” he said. “When I take time off, sometimes, yeah, I get a break, too.”
In some of his recent cases, Brown advocated the importance of maintaining trust between public officials and the people they serve. In November, he said the task of fostering trust between officials and the public falls on public servants such as himself.
“The integrity of our government rests on the ethics of individuals elected to be stewards of the public’s trust,” Brown said after a case he prosecuted that involved a county commissioner who double-billed for mileage.
Earlier this month, when Brown announced charges against Leadville’s police chief, who was accused of stealing and selling the department’s firearms, Brown said government bodies that lack oversight can prey on the public’s interest.
“We as communities invest so much trust in our public officials, and if people in their heart are not doing the right thing, there’s a lot of latitude to jeopardize public safety or public finances,” he said.
Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst in Colorado, said news of Brown’s consistent absences over the past several years would reflect poorly in the eyes of the public.
“Optics are everything,” Sondermann said. “It’s not going to play well. The optics of this are poor whether that’s to crime victims or other law enforcement officers or his own staff or the tax-paying public.”
The newsletters don’t distinguish between vacation time, sick leave and family leave. Brown, who said he makes $130,000 per year regardless of how much time he spends in the office, refused to “quibble over the days,” and said people shouldn’t question his work ethic.
“For the most part, the job requires that people put in a lot of sweat,” he said. “I think I set that example.”
Brown added that he’s the “hardest-working DA, most involved and most available who’s sat in this position.”